Do atheists go to heaven?

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Atheists are the only ones who say unequivocally that atheists don’t go to heaven. Most heaven-believing religions seem to have a clause that allows even atheists to integrate the neighborhood. The road, however, is usually narrow and littered with obstacles.


Mormons, for instance, are known to baptize dead people. Many Jews, myself excluded, are upset that Mormons have sometimes focused on Jewish Holocaust victims (perhaps even my dead relatives) for posthumous baptism. This practice, however ludicrous, is fine with me. It does no harm to my deceased relatives or to me. In fact, I take this as an expression of good will, much like, “I’ll pray for you.” I believe in its positive sentiment, if not its efficacy.

Another positive sentiment recently came from Pope Francis, who spoke of finding common ground with those outside the Catholic faith. He even implied that atheists who do good works are good people and might get to heaven without passing through the “Go” of Christianity.

The pope sounded a bit like the Dalai Lama: “I have come to the conclusion that whether or not a person is a religious believer does not matter much. Far more important is that they be a good human being.” The pope even came dangerously close to sounding like a humanist. The elevator definition of Humanism is “Good without a god.”

Perhaps Pope Francis forgot to run this concession by the papal censors, because the following day the Vatican announced a do-over. The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that those who are aware of the Catholic Church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”  This sounds like damage control for Francis’ offhand remarks, much as official spokespeople often “clarify” embarrassing remarks made by politicians. So Rev. Rosica is simply reiterating the traditional Catholic position that atheists can go to hell.

Speaking of heaven and hell, I once gave a sermon at a Unitarian Universalist Church, a human-centered religion with which I find much common ground. I began by telling the congregation that I had more in common with Christian conservatives than with them. To puzzled looks, I explained: “Unitarian Universalists believe everyone goes to heaven, Christian conservatives believe very few go to heaven, and I believe nobody goes to heaven. So I’m closer to them than to you.” The audience laughed, since most didn’t believe in a heaven and many had never thought about what the “Universalist” in their name used to mean.
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Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt,” and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston.

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com

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  1. There’s a strain of Christianity that says my dog is more likely to wind up in heaven than I am. The gist of these arguments is that dogs don’t reject Jesus, but many humans do.

    Huh? Other than the guys who walk around Disneyland dressed as Goofy and Pluto, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that one isn’t likely to encounter too many dogs that have accepted Jesus as their lord and savior.

    • In reply to #1 by IDLERACER:

      There’s a strain of Christianity that says my dog is more likely to wind up in heaven than I am. The gist of these arguments is that dogs don’t reject Jesus, but many humans do.

      Huh? Other than the guys who walk around Disneyland dressed as Goofy and Pluto, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that one is…

      good old christian wordplay.

      human atheists don’t reject jesus either, any more than they reject king arthur.

    • In reply to #1 by IDLERACER:

      Isn’t your answer already in the quote you are questioning? Second sentence in clarification to first sentences proposition that “my dog is more likely to end up in heaven than I am” answer; “…dogs don’t reject Jesus”. The only other part of the quote is “…the gist of these arguments”

      So “the gist of these arguments” that “my dog is more likely to end up in heaven than I am” is because “dogs don’t reject Jesus.”

      I guess this applies to all non- human animals too including parasites and insects. Apparently this gem of godly logic will ensure a healthy supply of heavenly mosquitoes!

      There’s a strain of Christianity that says my dog is more likely to wind up in heaven than I am. The gist of these arguments is that dogs don’t reject Jesus, but many humans do.

      Huh? Other than the guys who walk around Disneyland dressed as Goofy and Pluto, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that one isn’t likely to encounter too many dogs that have accepted Jesus as their lord and savior

    • My dog told me that he accepted catholicism and jesus as his lord and saviour,because we were living in Ireland.
      I told him he was an idiot,and he said,”well,I am a dog,ffs”.
      I then realised what I’d said, apologised, and then said I was the idiot…

      In reply to #1 by IDLERACER:

      There’s a strain of Christianity that says my dog is more likely to wind up in heaven than I am. The gist of these arguments is that dogs don’t reject Jesus, but many humans do.

      Huh? Other than the guys who walk around Disneyland dressed as Goofy and Pluto, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that one is…

  2. There’s actually a Paulinian (Paulian?) passage that suggests that those who have not been told of the Christ are subject to the afterlife rules of their own culture. If dogs have souls (most Christian faiths believe not) then they cannot understand the concept of a Christ figure and therefore might be judged instead by their merits as a dog.

    From a consequentialist perspective, this idea makes the Great Commission something of a crime, since it assures that more people will go to Hell by being informed of Jesus and clinging to their own culture than would otherwise. But paradoxes like this are nothing new: One human’s eternity in Hell, if real, would be a greater calamity than the Holocaust, and the Pope would be able to solve that by absolving everyone. It is only for political purposes (his own lust for power, or for preservation of the Church) that he doesn’t do this. But it logically follows that the Pope is more interested in the perpetuity of the mortal church than the immortal welfare of the human race.

    • In reply to #2 by Uriel-238:

      There’s actually a Paulinian (Paulian?) passage that suggests that those who have not been told of the Christ are subject to the afterlife rules of their own culture. If dogs have souls (most Christian faiths believe not) then they cannot understand the concept of a Christ figure and therefore might…..I think the term is Pauline :)

  3. When I was a child and was told by a minister that my dog who died wasn’t in heaven because dogs don’t go to heaven, I decided I didn’t want to go there either and threw away the little belief that I had in a god. Thanks, Rev, you did me a favour!

  4. If the religious are right, and there is a heaven, very few of them will be there. It will be so crowded with the atheists who got it wrong about heaven, lived good lives without god’s threats anyway, and therefore met the criteria for entering heaven before the religious did. The religious were so busy murdering and torturing people who didn’t believe in heaven that they will all just go to hell.

  5. In decades or centuries to come, hopefully, people will look back at our age and wonder how it was possible that reputable people could write (and have readers for) articles about something as ridiculous as heaven and hell. It’s like (some) of us, in this generation, reading a “serious” medieval tract on the power of witchcraft. How quaint, how innocent, how “medieval,” we say. What will our descendants say of us?

    • In reply to #5 by RDfan:

      In decades or centuries to come, hopefully, people will look back at our age and wonder how it was possible that reputable people could write (and have readers for) articles about something as ridiculous as heaven and hell. It’s like (some) of us, in this generation, reading a “serious” medieval tra…

      Indeed.

    • In reply to #5 by RDfan:

      In decades or centuries to come, hopefully, people will look back at our age and wonder how it was possible that reputable people could write (and have readers for) articles about something as ridiculous as heaven and hell. It’s like (some) of us, in this generation, reading a “serious” medieval tra…

      I would like to think that in decades or centuries to come that anyone who believes in such will be seen as having a mental illness or severe cognitive issues and treated accordingly. We will have outgrown the need for such limited ignorance and evolve. We will look at these people the way we look at racists today and shake our heads at such ignorance.

      But I don’t think that will happen. As long as the fear of death stays with the human condition and as long as there are preachers willing to prey on the frightened, the magical mystery tour will roll on.

  6. Nicely put Aber ration No4. No offence to Mr. Silverman but how can one be a Jewish atheist? We recently had a Muslim atheist on here. Are there any more,such as Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Zoroasterist, Mayan, followers of Zeus, Thor, spiritualists, Jedi, Klingon, getting very silly now, but of course it is very silly! How many heavens are there anyway?

    • In reply to #7 by finchfinder:

      Nicely put Aber ration No4. No offence to Mr. Silverman but how can one be a Jewish atheist?

      I’m fairly sure he means culturally Jewish. Note RD describes himself as a cultural Christian. That does raise an interesting question, though. Is there anyone here who would be unable to accept a cultural Muslim? Under what circumstances?

      • In reply to #10 by PERSON:

        I’m fairly sure he means culturally Jewish. Note RD describes himself as a cultural Christian. That does raise an interesting question, though. Is there anyone here who would be unable to accept a cultural Muslim? Under what circumstances?

        What would a cultural Muslim be? Someone who treats women like shit only for cultural reasons and doesn’t believe there’s any supernatural enforcer to back him up?

        • In reply to #26 by Dave H:

          What would a cultural Muslim be? Someone who treats women like shit only for cultural reasons and doesn’t believe there’s any supernatural enforcer to back him up?

          Aren’t there any cultural muslims out there who doesn’t enforce religious doctrine on their wives?
          Or does wearing a scarf automatically qualifies you as opressed?

    • In reply to #7 by finchfinder:

      Nicely put Aber ration No4. No offence to Mr. Silverman but how can one be a Jewish atheist? We recently had a Muslim atheist on here. Are there any more,such as Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Zoroasterist, Mayan, followers of Zeus, Thor, spiritualists, Jedi, Klingon, getting very silly now, but of cou…

      There seems to be a lot of “Jewish atheists”, Jerry Coyne for instance. The Jewish culture, broadly defined as “the accomplishments of people born into a Jewish family”, is very rich in its intellectual and artistic history. I would be kind of proud of such a heritage.

      Similarly, I consider myself a “Scandinavian Lutheran atheist”, since I greatly enjoyed the religious education I received in school and the Lutheran heritage we have, even if it hasn’t always been pretty. This history is still a part of me, even if intellectually I find religion silly. Also, the humanist idea that our morality certainly doesn’t come from religion is almost a part of the official Nordic Lutheran dogma. Never, ever have I heard any pious Scandinavian church lady claim that you need God to be good.

      And even in many practical questions of ethics, morality and politics I have much more common with Scandinavian Lutherans than with say, American atheists. As I’ve recently noticed when taking part in certain web discussions.

    • In reply to #14 by Constant Comment:

      Here’s my question: can’t one logically believe in an afterlife (another “plane” of existence that’s neither heaven nor hell) without a belief in god?

      Well in the sense that our atoms and particles get recycled when we die, then yes. A sort of scientific reincarnation if you please. Our consciousness will cease to exist though.

    • In reply to #14 by Constant Comment:

      Here’s my question: can’t one logically believe in an afterlife (another “plane” of existence that’s neither heaven nor hell) without a belief in god?

      Sure, you can “believe” in anything you want to, but without evidence for its existence I’m not sure you’re allowed to call it “logical”.

      Steve

    • In reply to #14 by Constant Comment:

      Here’s my question: can’t one logically believe in an afterlife (another “plane” of existence that’s neither heaven nor hell) without a belief in god?

      Here’s a complementary question.
      Can’t one logically believe in a fore-life without a belief in god?
      Science/relativity/QED (and mind-altering drugs?) show us that our everyday perception is a very finely-tuned, narrow, limited view of the reality of “life” in which neither “before” and “after” or “fore” and “aft” have much meaning.

      Excuse this gibberish … a side-effect of trying to get my head around Feynman diagrams.

      • In reply to #18 by quarecuss:

        In reply to #14 by Constant Comment:

        Here’s my question: can’t one logically believe in an afterlife (another “plane” of existence that’s neither heaven nor hell) without a belief in god?

        Here’s a complementary question.
        Can’t one logically believe in a fore-life without a belief in god?
        Science/r..

        From Brian Greene’s “Fabric of the Cosmos”:

        “So, if you buy the notion that reality consists of the things in your freeze-frame mental image right now, and if you agree that your now is no more valid than the now of someone located far away in space who can move freely, then reality encompasses all of the events in spacetime. The total loaf exists. Just as we envision all of space as really being out there, as really existing, we should also envision all of time as really being out there, as really existing, too. Past, present, and future certainly appear to be distinct entities. But, as Einstein once said, “For we convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion, however persistent.” The only thing that’s real is the whole of spacetime.

        In this way of thinking, events, regardless of when they happen from any particular perspective, just are. They all exist. They eternally occupy their particular point in spacetime. There is no flow. If you were having a great time at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1999, you still are, since that is just one immutable location in spacetime. It is tough to accept this description, since our worldview so forcefully distinguishes between past, present and future. But if we stare intently at this familiar temporal scheme and confront it with the cold hard facts of modern physics, its only place of refuge seems to lie within the human mind.

        Undeniably, our conscious experience seems to sweep through the slices. It is as though our minds provide the projector light referred to earlier, so that moments of time come to life when they are illuminated by the power of consciousness. The flowing sensation from one moment to the next arises from our conscious recognition of change in our thoughts, feelings and perceptions. And the sequence of change seems to have a continuous motion; it seems to unfold into a coherent story. But-without any pretense of psychological or neurobiological precision-we can envision how we might experience a flow of time even though, in actuality, there may be no such thing.”

      • In reply to #18 by quarecuss:

        In reply to #14 by Constant Comment:

        Here’s my question: can’t one logically believe in an afterlife (another “plane” of existence that’s neither heaven nor hell) without a belief in god?

        Here’s a complementary question.
        Can’t one logically believe in a fore-life without a belief in god?

        ““Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thegns and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside the storms of winter rain or snow are raging.

        “This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a moment of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing.”

        [An advisor to King Edwin of Northumberland, 625 AD. Verily, there is nothing new under the Sun]

  7. We atheists have one thing in common with religious people: we’ll all end up in a graveyard when we die, we won’t go any further, with the exception, perhaps, of explorers – atheists and religious alike – that may end up in the jaws of a crocodile or other vicious predator.

  8. I am rather looking forward to oblivion rather than kissing the arse of a celestial gaoler for eternity. The religios need to get their heads around how nice paradise has got to be to keep them ecstatic for longer than their feeble minds can possibly contemplate? 72 virgins would wear well thin for me especially if they’re Duran Duran fans (thanks Billy Connolly)

  9. It must be torture going through life with sincere belief that you could fry for eternity.

    I consider myself lucky that 12 step programs – of which I used to be a member back when I was a believer – don’t emphasize the after life. One less thing I’ve had to get over.

  10. From the article:

    Perhaps Pope Francis forgot to run this concession by the papal censors, because the following day the Vatican announced a do-over. The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that those who are aware of the Catholic Church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.” This sounds like damage control for Francis’ offhand remarks, much as official spokespeople often “clarify” embarrassing remarks made by politicians. So Rev. Rosica is simply reiterating the traditional Catholic position that atheists can go to hell.

    Well now I’m really quaking in my boots ! The Pope says I can go to heaven and the Vatican says I can’t ! Shit, should I buy the fireproof clothing or not ? Such theological dilemmas !

  11. Eternal Praise by a being who is never going to go away. Umm, no thanks. And oh, that is just pretending as if such a place exists to begin with. No human being is capable of acquiring the knowledge of the existence of such a place. And those who do make that claim are either unknowingly deluding themselves, or are just outright liars and hypocrites if indeed they do have a conscience but nonetheless go ahead with their bogus piety without any factual basis. A few may be mentally ill with certain neurological pathways being unalterable for life, signs of which can be picked up by the fervor and intensity with which they advocate their claim without even the slightest twitch or tremor of doubt and skepticism – and this may be true even when they are left alone in their own private space, where the restive mind ought to be prone to contemplation.

  12. In reply to ColdThinker No11, I know we are all influenced by religion and culture but you can not put Jewish etc. in front of the word atheist. You are either a believer or you are not.

  13. Do Atheist Go to Heaven?

    Honestly for me it’s not even about the answer to this ludicrous question, as that would require a heaven to go to. The ultimate answer should be it doesn’t matter. What we do while we live, how we treat ourselves and others should speak volumes about who we are and the legacy we choose to leave our loved ones after we die. To affect the one life we have, to make it worthwhile for those we care about and others we encounter on the way.

    Special provisions or no the promise of paradise in any sense is hollow, as no one has exclusive rights to make any such promise lacking any actual proof. And if the alternative is eternal damnation how can any person in good conscience want or even accept that people would suffer any such punishment eternally for the actions of some 7 or 8 decades? How do you measure a single human lifetime over the breath of eternity?

    To quote George Carlin from his last HBO Special: “It’s bullshit folks, it’s bullshit and it’s bad for ya.”

  14. Cultural Jew? Atheist Jew? You could sort of describe me that way, but I describe myself as a Gastric Jew—the flavor of some of those ethnic foods are imprinted on my neonatal sensory receptors, and I will walk miles for it. Provided I don’t have to take part in, or even listen to, any accompanying bullshit.

  15. The recent controversy with the Pope’s statements sound hilariously like the function ot the republican party in the US. The Pope is elected by elite individuals in the party to serve a term as their leader. Then when he makes so-called misstatements , the party sits in emergency session and issues a correction to their leader’s comments. So much for the Pope’s infallibility but the greater issue is that the Pope is nothing more than the head of a political party with all the flaws and nonsense behavior that one finds in politics. Why the devout sit on the edges of their seats for spiritual direction from a group of men continuously correcting and reinterpreting each other is amazing.

    • In reply to #37 by caseyg5:

      The recent controversy with the Pope’s statements sound hilariously like the function ot the republican party in the US

      I had the exact same thought and there is another similarity. What the pope originally said sounded like he was walking back Church dogma. It sounded as if he was saying non-Catholics could go to heaven even us vile atheists. As an ex altar boy I know that would have been a major change. Then what happens is all the right wing Catholics heard this and went nuts. The pope had one of his “people” give a new statement the next day (which got much less press then the original but was still noticed by the hard core Catholics) that in fact atheists do go to hell.

      This was the exact tactic used by Romney in the election: first say something half way reasonable about some topic like abortion. Then when your nutter base go insane you have one of your handlers issue a “clarification” that says you didn’t mean it at all. The majority of people remember the initial more rational statement but your nutter base are mostly satisfied that you are still nuts.

  16. Do I believe in life after death? No I believe in death after life.
    ~ anonymous

    I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying.
    ~ Woody Allen 1935-12-01

    I don’t believe in an after life, although I am bringing a change of underwear.
    ~ Woody Allen 1935-12-01

    So then, what do you believe in?
    Sex and death. Two things that come once in my lifetime. But at least
    after death you’re not nauseous.

    ~ Woody Allen 1935-12-01

  17. If you are going to believe a silly fantasy, why not go big? Every movie or porn star you have ever lusted after will be there waiting for you. Your body will be reshaped to make you the sexiest thing in the universe, you can eat all the apple fritters you want without getting sick or fat.

    One cult I briefly brushed up against promised that every unfulfilled desire I ever had would have to be satisfied to get me into a sufficiently level-headed condition for the next stage of my evolution, including illegal stuff.

    Maybe the way to destroy religion is to go into competition with a religion with bigger benefits, then at the right point expose the fraud. The catch is, humans being what they are would still believe, they are so attached to imaginary goodies.

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